Kids and teachers have now caught coronavirus in 16 schools, N.J. officials say

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At least five more New Jersey schools have had COVID-19 outbreaks in which students and teachers contracted the virus either on school property or in extracurricular activities, state officials said Thursday.

That brings the total of school outbreaks to 16 since the start of the school year, Gov. Phil Murphy said at his coronavirus briefing in Trenton.

The new outbreaks included two in Salem County involving a total of eight cases, one in Ocean County with three cases and one each in Atlantic and Bergen counties, both involving two cases, according to the data. The names of the schools and school districts were not released.

The 16 outbreaks include a total of 58 cases statewide in which students and teachers tested positive for COVID-19. Considering there are about 3,000 schools in New Jersey, the numbers are relatively small, Murphy said.

“To have 16 of them now in early October is well within any reasonable expectation of where we’d be and that’s a good thing,” Murphy said.

State officials unveiled a dashboard tracking school outbreaks last week and said they would update it weekly. However, the data does not identify the schools, school districts, dates of the outbreaks or only information about who got sick. It only identifies the county where the outbreak was located.

A school outbreak is defined as one or more cases in which a health department investigation determined students or teachers passed the coronavirus to each other at school. Cases in which people contracted the virus at home, at parties, from friends or at other outside events are not included.

Some teachers and parents have said the in-school transmission tracker downplays the scope of positive COVID-19 cases among students and teachers. There have been at least 100 New Jersey schools that have had teachers or students who have tested positive for the virus, according to data self-reported by teachers in a database overseen by the National Education Association, the parent group of the NJEA and other teachers’ unions.

The 16 outbreaks listed by state include:

— Atlantic County: 1 school outbreak with 2 cases.

— Cape May County: 3 school outbreaks with a total of 10 cases.

— Bergen County: 2 school outbreaks with a total of 5 cases.

— Burlington County: 2 school outbreaks with a total of 6 cases

— Gloucester County: 2 school outbreaks with a total of 10 cases.

— Ocean County: 2 school outbreaks with a total of 6 cases.

— Passaic County: 1 school outbreak with 9 cases.

— Salem County: 2 school outbreaks with a total of 8 cases.

— Sussex County: 1 school outbreak with 2 cases.

Under New Jersey’s guidelines, public schools are only required to notify the families of students in individual classrooms or entire schools when a teacher or student tests positive for COVID-19. It is up to local health officials to notify the wider community if they think an alert is warranted.

Schools with one or two positive COVID-19 cases can stay open if the cases appear to be unrelated, though students and teachers who were in close contact with the infected person should be asked to stay home for 14 days, the state guidelines say. A school should close for two weeks if there are two or more cases in different classrooms with no clear link between them.

Many New Jersey schools have gone beyond the guidelines and temporarily switched to remote learning as soon as a case has been reported in a school.

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Kelly Heyboer may be reached at [email protected].

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